SACRAMENTO (CBS13/KPIX5) — Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are demanding the Employment Development Department make changes immediately following a CBS13 report that revealed the state is printing full social security numbers on documents being mailed – putting millions at risk for identity theft.
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CBS13 Investigates EDD Identity Theft Concerns
Following that report, people from across the state reported that the EDD mistakenly sent them other people’s documents, complete with enough information to steal their identities.
“I think everybody who saw your story would agree it’s common sense, don’t put a social security number on a piece of correspondence you send through the mail,” California Democratic Assemblyman Mike Gatto said.
California Republican Assemblywoman Catherine Baker agreed. “My immediate reaction beyond shock, was we gotta fix it,” Baker said.
The lawmakers cited this CBS13 (KPIX) report in letters to the director of the EDD demanding immediate changes.
The EDD administers benefits to millions of California’s who are unemployed, on disability, or maternity leave.
Maxine Hines was the first to bring the security risk to CBS13’s attention.
When Hines complained, the response she got from an EDD employee surprised her. “She kind of laughed a bit, and said ‘a lot of people have complained,’”
Shortly after seeing Hines story on CBS13, Jody Howard noticed the EDD had mistakenly sent her someone else’s EDD documents along with her own.
“How in the world did this piece of paper get into an envelope address to me?” she wondered. However, she could not get ahold of anyone at the EDD to let them know about the mistake.
Alicia Brown from Glendale tweeted “I once received someone else’s EDD letter attached 2 mine w/ their ss#! I complained as well but nothing was done.”
EDD says it doesn’t know how often it sends the sensitive information to the wrong address.
However, in a statement, the EDD said it “uses a sophisticated mail processing system, and every effort is taken to ensure information remains secure.”
“But as with regular mail delivery,” the statement continues, “It’s possible mail can inadvertently be inserted in the wrong envelope.”
The Federal Trade Commission attorney David Newan pointed out that even when sent to the correct address, letters with a government logo are targets for identity thieves.
“It’s a flag to a mail thief that there might be useful information inside,” Newman said.
In fact, California law prohibits printing a social security number on any materials that are mailed.
However, the EDD contends it’s exempt from state law because federal law requires it to use Social Security Numbers in the administration of its programs.
“There’s a big difference between using a social security number to track somebody and using a social security number on a piece of paper that anyone can seal out of a mailbox,” Gatto said.
Assemblymember Baker met with the director of EDD shortly after her interview with CBS13 . She says she expects a formal response from the director soon. She says she’s also working to close any loopholes in existing state law that would give any state agency the impression they have a right to put millions of identities at risk.
Last month, the EDD launched an online claims process. For those with Internet access, this will limit the use of social security numbers in the mail.
However, the online system is still being rolled out and many will continue to have to apply for benefits through the mail first.
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NOTE: CBS13 Investigative Reporter Julie Watts was based at the CBS San Francisco station (KPIX) when this investigation began and has continued the work after moving to CBS Sacramento. The stories have aired on CBS stations across California.